Under Pressure – My Brain Hurts

In college, at the University of Chicago, I played Queen’s “Under Pressure” song over and over again every single year. It was my theme song. I am more or less a smart person, but I’m not a genius by any measure. The University of Chicago only accepts really, really smart people. And the thing about schools full of only really smart people is that some really smart person always has to be at the bottom of the pile.

To be truthful, in all my school years, I never had to work so hard for a ‘C’ as I did at the UofC. My Physics class was graded on a perfect bell curve, so yep! I got a C. I started out in my Developmental Biology course with a big fat 0 on my first exam but I studied and studied all term and aced the final. So yep! I got a ‘C’ once again.

I remember struggling to understand Molecular Biology and having to take the course twice in order to graduate. The first time, I either had the choice to withdraw or fail. I withdrew. The second time, I passed with a strong B. It was no easy B. I spent at least 2 nights a week with a tutor at the library. But I knew I had reached a special moment when another student asked the tutor to explain the lac operon model once again. The tutor struggled and then I jumped in and delivered a sound, easy-to-understand explanation. I was amazed by what my mind could do with some effort.

Though, I do remember coming home many an evening to my dorm room and crying to my closest friends, “My brain hurts.” Not my head, but literally, my brain. I didn’t know it was possible for this to be possible, but dear Monty Python empathized.

And now, 10 years after my graduation from the great University of Chicago, I once again feel the pressure to work hard and succeed. Again, my brain hurts. You see, I work as a software engineer. And whether or not you understand what a software engineer does, you can understand that most days I go into work not knowing how to do what I need to. Because if I did know how to do what I need to do, it would already be done. And then there are periods where not only do I not know how to do what I need to do, but there is no good documentation from somebody else who knows how to do what I need to. So I am left to struggle and figure it out on my own.

This has made me cranky. It has caused me to throw the Ukrainian out of the room where I am studying working on numerous occasions. I have blocked his IM chats. We have canceled this evening’s planned date. We are basically on hiatus until December 17 when the Ukrainian is done with his MBA studies and presumably, I will have a handle on all the new cutting-edge technology I am working on at work. Either way, we will be on a plane to the East Coast (though not entirely on holiday).  In the meantime, I will be trying to remind myself on an hourly basis how much I love my husband so I don’t let my stress get the best of me us.

As I may have mentioned in earlier posts, I have a really, really good job and I don’t want to lose it. Today, the headlines screamed about the largest rise in unemployment since 1974. We all know it’s going to get worse. So like so many others, much of the pressure I am feeling is self-induced. If the economy was flying and everyone was feeling good, I’m certain I would be too.

But, with all that said, there has been one small shining star in the workplace today. I officially learned that one of things I have been trying to do can’t be done (which is what I thought). So I’m not an idiot, just once again another really smart person at the bottom of the heap of other more-really-smarter people: software engineers.

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X-years ago, a meme

I read Sandier Pastures — a blog written by a Filipino woman living and working with her husband and young daughter in Dubai. Today, she blogged this meme and I am following suit.

15 years ago — I was 18 and in my first month of studying at the University of Chicago. Coming from such a small town in rural Iowa, I found the institution to be very intimidating. I was the coxswain on the women’s crew team (though I quit after gaining quite a lot of weight. 😦 ). My roommate was from Queens, New York. Her family had moved to New York from China when she was a child due to the fact that she was child #2, a clear violation of China’s one-child laws. In October 1993 (15 years ago), I was reading Adam Smith’s The Wealth Of Nations and Homer’s Illiad. I also studied Physics and Calculus. I did not own a computer, so I frequently could be found in Harper library’s computer lab until 3 a.m., trying to write 3-page papers. I really felt as if I had nothing to say about either texts. (It would not be long until I began to wonder how I would fit all that I had to say in only 20 pages.)

10 years ago — I had just started working my first “professional” job as a software engineer. My office was located on Chicago’s North Side across from Cabrini Green. The firm consisted of the owner, the secretary, myself and one other engineer. I had to answer sales calls as much as I had to write code. The job paid $27k per year. My food budget was limited to $5/day. I worked on the weekends at The Gap on Wabash Avenue across the street from Marshall Fields to supplement my income and be able to buy new clothes. I lived in a carriage house behind a decrepit mansion in Chicago’s North Kenwood neighborhood with 2 roommates. As soon as the autumn came, mice invaded the house.

5 years ago — I’d just left NYC after living there for 4 1/2 year to return to Chicago. I began studying at the Catholic Theological Union for a Master’s in Theology for Inter-religious dialogue between Catholics and Muslims. I was also telecommuting from Chicago into NYC and Dallas for my engineering job. I lived on W. Warner Ave. on Chicago’s North Side with a super-cool roomate that I met on Craig’s List. My dogs, Sophie and Anna came with me from New York. I felt very satisfied and content with the world and my place in it. I was reading Primary Readings in Philosophy for Understanding Theology. Despite my happiness, I felt very broke as I was still paying off my student loans from undergrad and was now paying my graduate tuition.  So, a few months later, I accepted a job transfer to San Franciso and left grad school.

3 years ago — I just moved from San Francisco to Haarlem, the Netherlands. I was working in Rotterdam. I was suffering a broken heart over the Bulgarian. I was still involved with someone else back in San Francisco. And I was falling in love with the Dutchman. I was having all sorts of problems with my legal paperwork with the Dutch authorities and general problems fitting in at my new job. My commute between Haarlem and Rotterdam was 1 1/2 hours long on a good day. I had no friends — just my 2 dogs that I had dragged with me. I also did not have telephone service or internet at home. I was lonely. I was reading Reading Lolita in Tehran: a Memoir in Books on the train back and forth between Rotterdam and Haarlem, grateful that I was even given the opportunity to live my life so much on my own — clearly the women in the book did not have that chance.

1 year ago — The Ukrainian had just moved in. We were spending a lot of time making multiple trips to Ikea to purchase a bed and other needs for our apartment. My sister and her husband had just come to visit. We held a massive party complete with a DJ to celebrate our living together. I was planning my 3 week trip to SE Asia, so I was reading travel websites rather than books. I also went to NYC for a week on a business trip. Felt like I had “come so far” from rural Iowa while in a business meeting at MTV headquarters. I felt very optimistic about my career. Still had no idea that the Ukrainian and I would soon be getting engaged, let alone married. And after that, I would leave MTV.

Yesterday — I walked with a friend from Noe Valley to Fort Mason to meet up with other friends to watch the Blue Angels. Afterwards, I walked to Union Square to meet up with the Ukrainian so we could go home together. While I had been relaxing in the sun with fighter jets doing tricks over my head, the Ukrainian had been studying. We browsed the shops of Union Square and found some things we liked for “the future” but nothing “for now”. We took BART back to 24th St. where he treated me to a “Let’s celebrate trying to make a baby!!” dinner at We Be Sushi on Valencia St.

Today — I regretted not eating raw fish at We Be Sushi last night as I received confirmation that we’re not yet successful in making our baby. I’m only slightly disappointed as we are just beginning our tries and I am not so young anymore. I spent the morning booking the Ukrainian and mine’s tickets to Iowa in November so that we can meet my sister’s new baby that was just born 2 weeks ago. In the early afternoon, we took our babies dogs around the Castro and to Dolores Park. I opted out of the festivities that were going on in Portrero and spent the rest of the afternoon at home catching up with friends on the E. Coast. Now, I’m testing some code for work for tomorrow.

Tomorrow — It’s Monday. Not much to say about that. I hope to either walk or ride my bike to work to enjoy this weather. And I also hope to wrap up this non-enjoyable project I’ve been on. Perhaps I will finish a blog entry I started  week ago. But I have not much to complain about as I am truly grateful I have a good job given these uncertain economic times. I will most likely be reading the NYTimes, keeping an eye on the Dow.

A truly good, green card day

Yes, I haven’t written awhile. The Ukrainian and I have been very, very busy doing lots of fun things — which I intend to post about soon.

And no, I’m not still learning Russian. Or rather, yes, I am. But I’m on break from the language given the new job and all. In the meantime, I have been spending *lots* of my spartan freetime learning Russian culture and history. And yes, paying attention to the conflict in Georgia. But more on all that later as well.

But today  was a very, very good day — especially important as I was feeling the world looked a bit bleak and hopeless for a few days over the weekend.

Here’s the list — in order of occurence:

1) My new iPhone arrived. It’s supplied by my employer in lieu of a BlackBerry and so that I can one day develop iPhone apps for iPhones.

2) An email from my aunt inspired me to reread an email I sent my younger, female cousin last week. After the rereading, I suddenly had a very deep wise “AHA!” epiphany over why I made so many unhealthy decisions regarding men in the past — not only in the men I chose or rejected (pushed away/sabotaged) or hung onto in hopes of unrequited love being validated and returned — but also in how I related to them. I sort of always knew these things, but the email made those (failed) relationships and choices make even more sense.

3) I deleted the Bulgarian from my yahoo instant messenger friends list. Our contact now barely hovers above non-existent, but I don’t need to see when he is logged in and when he’s not. We’re long over and I’m married now. No need for daily reminders of his existence.

4) My husband — the Ukrainian — brought me flowers at work. Pink tulips. Without cause or reason — but just because he’s romantic like that. 🙂  And no, he didn’t know I deleted the Bulgarian from my yim list.

5) I realized my boss and I have compatible working styles. 🙂

6) The news of the day that made me jump up and down with glee and excitement!!:  We received notice from the USCIS (formerly the INS) that we have an appointment in September for our “Green Card Interview”. This is great news and assuming it goes through ok — should help the Ukrainian’s employment prospects — as the Green Card is a much better document to have than his current work authorization. I have and will continue to mentally prepare myself for living in the Former Soviet Union and/or Eastern Europe if necessary. But, I’d rather not — especially given Putin’s apparent current expansionist agenda.

7) UPS sent me my refund for the customs duties for the over-valued prize from Boucheron I won for my writing in July. 🙂

Life has hope.